ZICHRON YA'AKOV, Israel - The Ofer Family VC Biocom Fund for investment in biotechnology and the life sciences disclosed its first investments, the fund's "ribbon-cutting" and "baby-naming" ceremony, representing the start of operations, said Biocom chairman Idan Ofer, who is also chair of the Tel Aviv-based Israel Corp., a subsidiary of the Ofer Brothers Group holding company.

The Biocom Fund, of Tel Aviv, placed $1 million in Compugen Ltd., the Tel Aviv-based bioinformatics company that floated this month on Nasdaq; and $1.5 million in Rehovot-based XTL Ltd., which develops human antibody-based drugs for viral diseases.

In March, when the Ofer Brothers announced its interest in biotechnology, putting in $20 million with the intent to raise $30 million from other investors, the founding investment was $2.5 million in Pharmos Ltd., a Rehovot-based research-driven company. "We recognized that its lead product for head trauma, dexanabinol, could bring it into astronomical valuation," said Mony Ben Dor, who co-manages the fund with David Schlachet.

"We are actively looking for other quality investments, including young companies," Schlachet said.

In the meantime, XTL completed a $17 million fund-raising round, the same amount it raised in May 1999. The money was raised from new investors, bounding off XTL's greater European presence: Merlin BioScience Ventures ppl in London and CDC Participations in Paris. Several previous investors also participated, including Goldman Sachs & Co. in New York; Nomura International plc, of London; Lombard Odier, of Switzerland; Biotechvest Inc., of San Diego; and Inventech Industrial Ventures Ltd., of Tel Aviv.

The private placement followed XTL's decision to delay an issue of its shares on the London Stock Exchange.

XTL CEO Martin Becker said, "The IPO was postponed due to unfavorable market conditions in May," at a time when several technology issues flopped. "We will reinstate the effort at a later date when conditions are optimal."

Almost at the same time as Compugen was listing on the Nasdaq, the Ministry of Industry and Trade Magnet program for Generic Pre-Competitive Technologies and R&D announced the firm's participation in the formation of a new biotechnology consortium of government, industry and academia, which began at the end of July. Other participants include Hazera (1939) Ltd. in Brurim, M.P. Shikmim, Rosh Hanikra Cultures Ltd. and researchers from Bar Ilan University, the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Agriculture.

Two-thirds of the $1.5 million investment in the consortium will be provided by the state, and the remainder by the project participants to use bioinformatics to develop infrastructure technologies in advanced plant biotechnology.

Back in Jerusalem, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. said Copaxone (glatiramer acetate for injection) was approved for marketing in the UK for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. Teva plans to launch Copaxone there during the beginning of the fourth quarter.

This is Copaxone's first approval in a major European market, and the UK has agreed to act as the reference member state for all EU approval.

Teva President and CEO Eli Hurvitz said, "Teva is currently preparing to file under the European Mutual Recognition Procedure to make Copaxone available in the remainder of the European Union," with a goal of launching in the EU in mid-2001.

Teva, of Jerusalem, markets and sells over 80 percent of its products outside Israel. Copaxone global in-market sales reached $59.4 million during the second quarter of 2000, up 56 percent from a year earlier. Copaxone already takes 25 percent of the U.S. sales, the No. 2 position in the MS market.

Teva CFO Dan Suesskind told BioWorld International, "R&D expenses increased by 35 percent compared to 2Q99, to $30.1 million, and about half of the increase is attributable to Copaxone and to other advanced, innovative CNS projects."

Teva has been petitioning the government for more R&D subsidies and tax benefits, commensurate with what the state gives to entice Intel and other foreign mega-technology companies to set up shop and stay in Israel.

Israel Makov, Teva executive vice president, said, "Teva strives to be the leading generic pharmaceutical company, and is also pursuing biogenerics. We are increasingly interested in biotechnology, which already provides various important medications, and is anticipated to grow in importance."

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